By Kevin McGran Staff Reporter
Tue., Nov. 30, 2021
It’s been a tough journey from New Jersey to the Maple Leafs for forward Joey Anderson.
The right winger, acquired following the 2019-20 season for Andreas Johnsson, has spent most of his time with the AHL Marlies. He got into one game with the Leafs last season after having played 52 for the Devils in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
The Leafs are a tougher team to make.
“It’s been good that I’ve been able to get in games at the Marlies and be around this (Leafs) group and get to know the organization and all the players,” Anderson said Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to, if I can get in the lineup, to (having) some fun and (playing) with these guys.”
There’s no “if” about it. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Anderson would be in for Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He’ll play with David Kämpf and Nick Ritchie, in place of Ondrej Kaše, who is recovering from an undisclosed upper body injury believed to be a concussion.
“(Anderson is) a versatile player,” Keefe said. “He’s got good defensive instincts, a great work ethic. We think he can help on the penalty kill. He’s been up here a few times with us, and he’s done well in our practices. We haven’t gotten him into a game yet but, just with Kaše’s absence, getting another right winger in there helps us. With his skill set, we think he’s a good fit.”
The 23-year-old from Roseville, Minn., is six feet and 207 pounds and a product of the U.S. National Development Program, where he was a teammate of goalie Joseph Woll. Anderson, who has five goals and two assists in 13 games with the Marlies this season, recognizes the depth in the Leafs organization.
“It’s a good problem to have, when you have so many guys that it’s hard to get everybody in,” he said. “But when you get your opportunity, make sure you’re ready to go with it. You’ve got to bring your game whenever you’re on the ice.”
As weird as COVID has been for all of us, there was a price to paid last year for minor-leaguers like Anderson. Not only did they not get paid at the same rate, they didn’t play many games, their playoffs were cancelled and they were largely isolated from everyone. Anderson didn’t see family members because they couldn’t cross the border.
“This year’s been nice,” he said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family, and able to clear my head away from the rink. Last year was very hockey-centric. I wasn’t able to get away from the game and I’ve enjoyed being able to do things away from the arena that bring me joy and distract me.”
Those kinds of things include bowling, golfing and seeing people.
Anderson said he felt the Leafs did him a huge favour bringing him on the California trip, even though he wasn’t going to play. His brother, Mikey, is on the Los Angeles Kings.
“It was a really nice gesture,” he said. “I know they know how tough last year was on everybody. So they’re trying to help everybody out and make sure guys are feeling good. I know, as much as it helped me, it probably was nice for him to see me as well.
“L.A. is a long way from home for us, too. Even though we can fly there, it’s not the cheapest thing for our family to go and see him. And any time you can get to see each other, it’s a really special thing.”
The Leafs sent Anderson down after the L.A. game but called him back up this week. Kyle Clifford was the extra forward in practice.
There’s no question the Leafs’ depth has been tested and has passed with flying colours, starting with Woll subbing for goalie Petr Mrázek.
Mrázek practised Tuesday with the team in full for the first time since aggravating a groin injury in late October. Forward Ilya Mikheyev, who has been out all season with a thumb injury, took part in some drills for the first time.
“Look at the guys that have come up here most recently, I feel confident putting them in the lineup,” Keefe said. “The addition of Kyle Clifford has giving us added depth and extra leadership and veteran presence. There’s a number of guys playing really with the Marlies right now. We’ve rotated seven defencemen throughout the season and those guys have done the job. We’ve won games and gone on good runs no matter who has been in or out.
“That makes us makes us feel good about it, because whether it’s Kaše or it’s Mikheyev or Mrázek, we do feel good that we can handle things when guys do get hurt.”